September 4, 2016 Sermon

6 09 2016

Pentecost 16 C 2016 Text

Luke 14:25-35

25 Now great crowds accompanied [Jesus], and he turned and said to them,

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30aying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.

33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen

Christian discipleship.  Probably most of us don’t bristle at these words, but all of us should.  Either we ought to recoil at the phrase Christian discipleship it’s tragically inconvenient, or we should recoil at the phrase because we’d like to be the ones to determine if someone else is a disciple.

Reading today’s Gospel text, Jesus talks about discipleship to great crowds that were following Him.  A Christian disciple is one who follows Jesus.  Jesus gets to define what being His follower looks like and what it means.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses six short lessons to tell what being His disciple, His follower is.

26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

This is tough!  Would Jesus really say that being His disciple would mean breaking the Fourth and Fifth Commandments?  But, there’s that word:  hate.  As my professor Dr. Tschatchula said, “Sie mussen nicht hassen.”  You must not hate.  So, what gives?

What’s the first commandment and the explanation given in the Catechism?

You shall have no other gods before Me.

We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

It’s hard to imagine, but family – father, mother, sister, brother – can easily become an idol, something loved more than Jesus.  That’s especially true when looking for a rich, full life for our family at the expense of hearing God’s Word.  Jesus’ call isn’t to go intentionally breaking the commandment, but to fear, love, and trust Him above all things.  In His words, Jesus tells us that we really don’t know how to love family anyway.

27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

It’s said all the time:  “Well, this is my cross.  I’ll just have to bear it and know Jesus is near.”  That’s kind of a precious moments definition of Jesus’ words.  In fact, as 21st century North Americans, we don’t have a clue as to what Jesus is saying.

Jesus’ first century hearers, on the other hand, knew exactly what he was talking about.  The cross wasn’t my kid disobeying or my financial woes or some kind of cancer.  The cross was far worse.  To those ears, the cross meant only one thing:  the most painful, most agonizing, in fact, most SHAMEFUL death imaginable.  A far cry from today’s sanitary death chambers for executions, the cross meant struggling to breathe, hanging naked before the world to see and ridicule.

The cost of the tower and the king going to war, those are things we understand.  But, then Jesus says,

33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

The Greek word for renounce is the word from which we get apostasy.  It means bid farewell, forsake, even separate oneself.  Separate oneself from all that he has and holds dear.

Then comes those words about salt:

34“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.

Again, for us 21st century North Americans, this statement is a little puzzling:  salt losing its taste.  We go to HEB or wherever to buy salt and it’s not really expensive.  For Jesus’ first century hearers, on the other hand, the situation was far different.  Salt had to be mined and broken out of rock.  Getting the salt separated from the rock and the dirt and the impurities was a difficult task.  If the impurities remained, then salt lost its saltiness – not even good enough to throw onto the manure pile.

Jesus’ words about discipleship are a far different picture than the life we lead today.  Renouncing, turning back on all that’s held dear for the name of Jesus.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame blues guitarist Albert King recorded the song Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven but Nobody Wants to Die.  I listened to the recording on Youtube the other day.  Great, classic blues guitar licks in that recording.

To borrow the words of Albert King and modify them a bit:  Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die…to himself.

Jesus’ words uncover a horrible reality.  That reality is that our lives are so often at odds with following Jesus and all – ALL – our attempts to follow His direction are more like a Keystone Cops episode.  We have to confess that, in fact, we are the guy who can’t finish the tower.  We are the king who is doomed to defeat.  We’re brought to confess that, not only are we not able to count the cost, we don’t even know the cost of following Jesus.

In today’s Old Testament Lesson, Moses speaks words that are the sweetest comfort.  Moses said:

Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

In those words spoken by Moses, there’s not a choice to be made.  The choice has already been made.  Beginning with the covenant spoken to Abraham, the choice had been made the Lord God.  That choice was continued through Isaac and Jacob.  It was by the hand of the Lord God that there was wailing in Egypt on the night of the Passover, and the Lord God delivered Israel with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm as they passed through the sea on dry ground.  Israel belonged to the Lord.  He had redeemed them.  It wasn’t a choice of Law, but the sweetest words Israel had heard earlier:  I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves.

So it is for us.  We can’t even begin to calculate the cost, but Jesus knows it fully.  He is the one who has counted the cost and redeemed His bride the Church and her Christians.  You have been chosen!  In the waters of your baptism, by the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ death and resurrection, His payment of redemption, was put upon you!  In faith, clinging to Jesus above all others, there is life in Jesus’ choice.

See, in the Father’s house, loving Father, loving our mother the Church, loving our brother Jesus and our brothers and sisters in the faith, only in Jesus are we able truly to love father and mother and sister and brother.

Only in Jesus who bore the cross, scorning the most hideous and shameful of deaths, only in Him are we given to taking up the cross of shame from the world, enduring for the sake of Jesus’ name.

Only in Jesus who renounced all things, even His heavenly glory and the honor due Him so that He might redeem us, are we brought to renounce all things for the sake of His name.  It’s amazing to hear followers of Jesus who are so surprised at the animosity borne by the world to the Church and her Christians because of the name of Jesus.  Yet, in these words, Jesus tells us that it will happen.  One can scarcely think of renouncing their family because of Jesus, but it happens.  I can remember speaking to a student at the seminary.  She was an American Baptist from Taiwan.  When she was brought to faith in Christ, her family held a funeral service for her.

Only in Jesus and His purity are the impurities of this world purged, and it’s only the word about Jesus that seasons the earth and its inhabitants.

Only in Jesus.  Following Jesus.  Beginning and ending with Jesus.  That’s Christian discipleship.  The cost is that Jesus has given us is His life.  Dying to ourselves, we are no longer our own, but are chosen in Him and given His life.  So many want a rich full life that ends only in death.  Only in Jesus is there the rich, full life that extends into eternity, even though it may not look that way for the present.  Only in Jesus.

He who has ears, let him hear.  AMEN

Independence Day

4 07 2016

It’s July 4.  Independence Day in the United States.  On this day in 1776, the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence.  The movement brought the wrath of the British empire to bear on its colonies in the New World.  Most of us know a little something about the Revolutionary War and our heritage as Americans.

As of this writing, it would seem that the fabric of the nation founded upon liberty is coming unraveled.  Rights without responsibility are being championed and the liberties enjoyed by many have been swallowed up by what I’d call tyranny.  I’ve heard words like fascism, socialism, and communism thrown around in recent years.  The religious liberty which had marked our nation in years past is now, unfortunately, becoming a thing of the past.

Before I write what comes next, let me give a little explanation.  I love being an American.  I am a veteran.  I have gone into harm’s way under our flag and would do it again if called.  I can’t sing the Star-Spangled Banner without tears coming to my eyes, and hearing the history of the writing of our national anthem brings a lump to my throat.  I’m one of those who can’t watch the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi enough times.

That said, it’s important for me to remember something as a follower of Jesus.  As much as I love this nation, it will come and go.  So do all nations of the world.  They come and go.  In 410 A.D., Rome, which seemed as if it would last forever, was sacked by the Visigoths.  The Holy Roman Empire fell, too.

What remains and will continue to remain into eternity is the Church.  The New Testament Canon which Rome had endeavored to squelch at various times outlasted the empire.  The Church continues and will remain into eternity.  That’s Jesus’ promise to us.  The promise of our Lord continually directs us to the Last Day, the day of resurrection.  In Revelation 11, the account of the two witnesses gives us the picture that this life will be anything but certain.  Congregations will come and go, just like nations.  Yet, for the holy Church, there is resurrection.  Our minds are continually occupied with heaven.

On this Independence Day, it’s important for us to pray for our nation and for our leaders.  It’s important for us as we approach November to be in prayer to our Lord who establishes all authority in heaven and on earth that He would give us godly, devout leaders who cherish life and the defenseless.  It’s important for us to pray that the good news about Jesus be preached with free course in the liberties we have enjoyed in the past.

It’s equally important for us to know that our own day of deliverance is always on the horizon, the day when our Lord Jesus appears in glory.  That day will come, even though today might be filled with trouble and affliction.  We pray, then, to be kept faithful.  We pray that we confess faithfully Christ crucified and risen.  And, each day, we pray with John at the end of Revelation:  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

History Through Baseball

25 06 2016

In 1870, a fledgling National Association baseball team was established in Boston.  The team, the Boston Red Stockings, joined the National League in 1876 when the National Association folded.  The name was changed in 1883 to the Boston Beaneaters for two reasons.  You really have to ask a question about beans and Boston, also known as Bean town?  Secondly, there was already a Red Stocking team in Cincinnati in the American Association.

The name changed again in 1912 when they became known as the Boston Braves.  This name’s significance might escape some youngsters who don’t know a whole lot of history or aren’t taught it.  The history of the name Braves actually goes back to 1773 and a little get together in which tea was tossed into Boston Harbor by a group known as the Sons of Liberty who just happened to be disguised as Native Americans.  This became known as the Boston Tea Party.  The Boston Braves, at least in my mind, paid homage to the city’s proud heritage of the American Revolution.

Of course, the Braves moved to Milwaukee and then to Atlanta.  Famous names such as Jim Thorpe, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth, and Hank Aaron all wore the Braves uniform at one time or another.  But, if we pay attention, the Boston Braves still call us to cherish the independent spirit for which Americans are known.

On Thursday, in a heated, sometimes tragic, race, Great Britain elected to leave the European Union.  From what I’ve read, many of the British wanted their sovereignty back.  There were those, of course, who desired to stay in the EU, but the independent minded held the day on Thursday.

Now, I have no clue of the ins and outs of international finance.  The economies of the world are largely just over the horizon to my knowledge.  Just so you know a little about me, my heritage is largely English, along with Scottish and Irish.  According to my Uncle Robert who did much of the research, my family has at least five great-grandfathers who fought with the rebels in the American Revolutionary War.  I am a native Texan because one of my ancestors came from New England to join the Texans in their revolution.  It would be proper of me to say God Save the Queen, Don’t Tread on Me, and Come and Take It.

The recent vote by Great Britain to leave the European Union has been getting a lot of attention.  England didn’t seem to want to have a foreign body based elsewhere making decisions about the English nation.  Sounds like the English learned a lesson from some guys throwing tea into Boston Harbor, an event remembered by the name Braves.


Again, consulting my own heritage, it might be a good time to pour a little American spirit and join England in saying, “God save the queen!”

Daniel 6 and the Power of Prayer

5 06 2016

Suffice it to say that the details of these verses can really bog us down.  What is a satrap?  Or a president?  Suffice it to say these were government officials appointed by King Darius.  It was a government bureaucracy, if you want to call it that.  The task of these men was to serve the king by ruling various regions.

One of the principle leaders, a president, was Daniel – that Daniel.  He was about 80 years old.  He had proven himself to King Nebuchadnezzar when the Babylonians were in power.  Now he excelled with the Medes and Persians.  That made the other guys mad.

Let’s just say it was envy in their hearts that brought about the whole situation, appealing to the king’s arrogance.  They wanted to slander old Daniel.

So reading through this chapter, and thinking about prayer, there’s something striking.  Like I said, Daniel was about 80.  Notice what the text tells us.  Daniel opened his window, faced toward Jerusalem where Mt. Zion was, where the temple had been, and knelt down in prayer.  Three times each day at the hours of prayer, Daniel knelt down.  It was the same routine.  It was what God had commanded.

But, the evil guys who didn’t like Daniel now had him in a bind.  Trapped by treachery, Daniel was under attack because of his faithfulness.  He was caught by the king’s arrogance, and therefore condemned to the lions’ den.

Now, we all know about Daniel.  The king loved old Daniel and it grieved his heart, but the law was the law.  So, into the lions’ den old Daniel went at sunset.  It was a bad night for the king.  In the morning, the king ran to the lions’ den and called out to Daniel, fully expecting to hear silence in return.

But, it was Daniel’s voice the king heard.  Daniel had spent the night in prayer.  God in His faithfulness, because of His mercy, sent His angel to stop the mouths of the lion.  God in His mercy had heard Daniel.

Now, this is going to sound a little strange, but we schooled on prayer pretty well in this text.  There are a few lessons, and they’re great lessons, lessons that come from the mercy of the Triune God.

First, everything about prayer begins and ends with Jesus, even with this Old Testament man named Daniel.  See, for Daniel, he faced Jerusalem, the holy city, where Mt. Zion stood.  It was the place where the temple had been.  The temple, the mountain of Zion, even the city, all were forerunners of Jesus.  All came from God’s promised Messiah.  That’s where Daniel’s faith was centered, in the promise of the Messiah, Jesus.  Daniel looked forward, looking ahead.  He might not see the fulfillment, but He certainly expected God’s fulfillment at His chosen time.

For us, like Daniel, we look to Jesus, but we look back to the cross.  We look to the place of Jesus’ bleeding and dying for sinners.  The greatest comfort is in the wounds of our Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified and raised.  All of God’s promises are bound to Jesus who was dead and is alive forevermore.

Now, we heard a lot of this last week, but reading Daniel, we need to hear it again, and to learn it, and, like those who were confirmed a few weeks ago, memorize it.

Prayer is an act of worship.  It’s one that God has given us in mercy.  We can say all kinds of things about prayer, but first and foremost, it’s an act of worship.  God loves to hear us holding up His promises before Him just like He loved to hear Daniel doing the same.  This is a First Commandment thing.  God says have no other gods before Him.  In prayer, we worship Him alone, fearing and loving Him, trusting Him to do what He says.

So, prayer is an act of worship and God gives us His name to call upon in prayer.  There’s nothing to figure out here.  It’s Second Commandment stuff.  No, we’re not supposed to misuse God’s name, but He gives us His name to call upon it in prayer and praise.  God fully expects us and even commands us to use His name to call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

The true God has given us the act of worship called prayer, and He’s given us His name to call upon in prayer.  Thus, God commands us to pray.  We are His true children.  He has called us such in our baptism.  In Jesus’ death and resurrection by the Holy Spirit, the Father is pleased to call us His children.  That’s the promise of your Baptism.  As a true Father, He wants to hear from His true children.  This is Third Commandment stuff here.  He gives us the command, the promise, and the guide for prayer all in His word.  That prayer at the beginning, it was the end of Psalm 19.  There’s that great prayer of Elijah and Jesus words in Luke 7.  He loves it when we in faith hold up His word to Him.

God has given us the act of worship called prayer, and He’s given us His name to call upon in prayer, and commanded us to pray.  Because God loves us, because He is our God, the only God, because He has given us His name and commanded us to pray, He promises to hear us.  He hears us not because our prayers are so great, but because of His merciful promise.  He has promised to hear and, according to His wisdom to answer.

This would be a really great Bible story to talk about the power of prayer.  I hear that all the time.  My prayers have no power – they really don’t – because they come from me.  I don’t believe in power of prayer, but I know the merciful promise of My Father in heaven that He will hear me for the sake of Jesus and answer me.  See, in prayer, I don’t change God, but He changes me.  He moves me to trust in Him, reminding me that His grace is sufficient for me.

May God the Holy Spirit keep us firm in the faith, learning from the example of Daniel.  AMEN


16 05 2016

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen

So what’s it all about?  It’s Pentecost Sunday.  Reading these first twenty-one verses of Acts, there’s all kinds of stuff going on.  Is it about a mighty, rushing wind?  Is it about cloven tongues of fire?  Or, is it about the disciples standing and speaking in other tongues, not some unintelligible babbling but actual other human languages?  Is it about Jewish guys slandering the apostle guys by saying they’re drunk?  Is it about Peter’s sermon?

Truth is, today’s about faith.  It really is.  The sound of the mighty rushing wind, the cloven tongues of fire identifying the apostles, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Church, the speaking of the mighty deeds of God in other languages, it’s about faith, the faith passed down through the apostles, the faith which we believe.

So the mighty rushing wind signals the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the Church built upon Jesus.  The cloven tongues of fire mark the disciples as apostles, sent guys, sent for the purpose of Christ.  They proclaim the mighty deeds of God, the mighty deeds of the rescue of Noah, the rescue of Israel in the Exodus, and all the mighty deeds of the Old Testament.  What’s more, people hear them in their own language, people from every nation under heaven.

Peter stands up and begins to speak.  He proclaims that the fulfillment of the prophet Joel is in Jesus.  Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  At the end of his sermon, Peter is asked by many hearers:  What shall we do?  Peter told them to repent, to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness, and they would be saved.  A lot of folks want to make that into a process, but it’s not.  It’s about faith – trusting in Jesus Christ.

Peter told those same hearers that this promise – the one calling on the name of Jesus would be saved – that same promise is given to them and to their children and to all who are far off.  The promise is that, working through the good news about Jesus, God the Holy Spirit creates people and makes them new.

In the good news about Jesus, the Holy Spirit brings Jesus to you, creating faith, making us new.  Okay, we all know how to answer the question:  How does the Holy Spirit get into our hearts to create faith?  Through our ears!  It’s about faith, the faith, our faith.

One of the things we learned in Catechism class was the means of grace.  The other night I asked the confirmands to tell me about the means of grace.  They both said rightly, and everyone should learn this – learn it, because it won’t hurt you.  The means of grace are those means through which God puts us into possession of the redemption earned by Jesus.  God puts us into possession of the redemption earned by Jesus.

The other part of that lesson is that we receive it by faith.  We receive it by faith.  The Holy Spirit working through the word about Jesus creates and strengthens and sustains faith.  He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies Christians, even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one, true faith.

In your baptism, you were brought to faith.  There will be those who will challenge you, but I want to tell you a really important Bible verse:  1 Corinthians 12:3 – No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.  Let’s hear that again:  No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.  This isn’t about age or how smart someone is or anything else.  Faith is the work of God the Holy Spirit – period, end of discussion.

As you come to the Lord’s table, you have the promise that Jesus gives you His body and blood – His very, very real body and blood that was sacrificed for you on the cross – He gives that to you under bread and wine.

Now, that’s either the most preposterous, bombastic snake oil in history, or it’s the truth.  The Holy Spirit, working through the good news about Jesus, teaches us all that Jesus has given.  By the Spirit, we know that Jesus gives us His body and blood under bread and wine – we know it!  And, receiving, we receive the blessings of forgiveness and life and eternal salvation.

It’s about faith – the faith, our faith.  Years after Peter preached the sermon on the day of Pentecost, in a letter, he wrote:  But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

Through Jesus’ commissioning and sending, the Holy Spirit took twelve men who weren’t all that bold, who were greatly concerned about things of this life, and transformed them.  They were transformed into bold preachers.  Their view of the things of this world was transformed so that everything was seen from an other-worldly point of view.

Working through the Word about Jesus, that’s what the Spirit does.  He takes people, men and women, boys and girls, and transforms them into completely different people.  They are no longer people of this world, but people who are children of God through Jesus.

People of God, those who have been brought into the household of God in the waters of Holy Baptism, you are a peculiar people.  You belong exclusively to God the Father through Jesus by the Holy Spirit.  You are not of this world, this broken, dying world.  Rather, you are looking for the life to come, a life of resurrection.  It’s about faith, the faith, our faith.

By the Holy Spirit’s working through the Word about Jesus, through the Spirit’s work in the waters of Holy Baptism, as the Spirit works through the promise Jesus gives you in His Holy Supper, the Church and her Christians are different, peculiar.  This past Wednesday in Bible Class we started talking about how the Church and her Christians live in this world:  we’re resident aliens.

We live by the faith that’s based in Jesus who was dead and is alive.  The other night, I asked the confirmands to recite 1 Corinthians 15:3 and following.  It goes like this:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

Paul goes through a whole list of people to whom a very much alive Jesus appeared after His resurrection.  This is no mass hysteria – nobody could pull that off.  No, this is faith based in actual, historical even that’s transmitted by the testimony of the apostles.  This is the good news through which the Spirit works.

Even though we live in this city of man, we long for the city of God.  And, in hope, we cling to Jesus – the one calling on the name of the Lord will be saved, Peter proclaimed.  Peter by the guiding of the Holy Spirit was calling hearts to believe.

Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, we’re taught whose we are.  We’re taught that by the Holy Spirit working through the Good News about Jesus, we who were not a people, not anything really, are changed, transformed.  We’re shaped into the people of God.  We’re a peculiar people, one claimed exclusively by God the Father through Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

We live in faith, the faith handed down to us, our faith that we confess with the whole Church in heaven and on earth.  Our ways are different.  Our language is different.  Our hope is completely opposite that of this life.  Later in Acts 2, we’re taught that those of the Church devoted themselves continually to the apostles’ doctrine and the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.  That’s different.  That’s peculiar.  That’s life lived in this life with an eye toward the life to come.  That’s the life of faith.

Pentecost isn’t about being Super Christians with capes on our backs and big Cs on our chest.  We’re not called to that.  That’s not the faith.  No, we’re called to be the Church – that body of Christ kept with Jesus in the one true faith by the Spirit until Jesus appears in glory.

We’re called to be the Church that proclaims Jesus, whose Christians’ lives are set apart because of faith.  In every calling in life, in the life of faith, it points to the peculiarity of the word about Jesus.  We’re called to be peculiar in this life, living here with an eye to the life to come.  That’s by faith, the work of the Holy Spirit.

C. S. Lewis famously wrote, If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought the most of the next…they left their mark on earth precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven.

May God the Holy Spirit so guide us and keep us as God’s peculiar people, people who confess the one true faith.  May He keep us with Jesus Christ and shape us through the Good News about Jesus, that calling on the name of the Lord in this life, we may be delivered to everlasting life.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN

Sermon for April 24, 2016

25 04 2016

Easter 5 C 2016 Text

Revelation 21:1-7

Whenever I hear about Revelation, there’s usually an observation that is almost universal:  the Book of Revelation is scary.  That’s a pretty good observation, because there’s some scary stuff in this book.  What, with the two beasts, the great prostitute, the dragon and all the destruction in the visions.  There is scary stuff, and we do well to be serious about it.

But, underlying this thought, and implicit in today’s text, there is a warning.  The comfortability of this world is often seen as a sign of the presence of God.  Often it’s seen individualistically.  The rights guaranteed us in this nation are often understood as divine inheritances.

Facebook theology (type an Amen, etc.) are thought to be signs of faith, just as things of this world are signs of God’s favor.

But the Bible doesn’t really mince words.  In John chapter 1, the evangelist reminds us that Jesus was in the world, and the world was made through Him, but the world did not know Him.  And, James tells us in his letter that whoever makes himself a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Truth is, all the so-called rights come from man-made documents and understandings and the things of this world are dying.  The First Amendment, as great as it is, comes from the Constitution, not the Bible.  As much as I love being an American, I also know that the kingdoms of this world come and go.  And, the diminishing of the Church’s favored status is a reality in a world that changes all the time.  It’s not that I like it, but it’s the way things are.

The Church is the company of those who believe in Jesus, and there is only one.  Individually, Christians are made part of this Church, but one is not “saved” without having a part in this Church.  What happens to any part of the Church happens to the whole Church.  Brothers and sisters in Christ persecuted, imprisoned, put to death.  Interesting to note that this was the Church’s history at the beginning – the persecution and death of apostles, so many of our ancestors in the faith deprived of property and life because of the name of Jesus.  Jesus told His disciples as much in John 15, that in this world, there will be tribulation for His people.

So, yes, there is scary stuff in this book.  The Church will undergo tribulation.  She will be threatened and the dragon, that is the devil. Even though Satan has been defeated by Jesus, he brings all his wrath and spews all his venom on Jesus’ bride, His Church, and her Christians.  Yet, in the midst of the scary stuff, the Church does what she always does:  proclaim the truth of God in Jesus Christ.

See, Jesus’ death and resurrection establishes His Church.  His bride is created in water and blood that flowed from His side.  She is kept holy, and her holiness comes from Jesus.  Through His Holy Spirit, the Church is preserved by Jesus.

So, in today’s text, there’s a familiar theme:  all things new.  It’s not a new creation, but an old creation purified and restored.  See, John had only seen the fallen creation.  To see creation as God had intended it in the beginning meant new – restored, pure, everlasting.  There is no sea, John says.  That ancient symbol of chaos, the sea, is taken away in the restoration of creation.

Notice something else:  There’s not a whole lot of going up, but there’s a lot of coming down in Revelation 21.  The new Jerusalem is coming down.  The one who sits on the throne and the Lamb are coming down.  The great voice from heaven announces:  The dwelling place of God is with men.  After judgment, after the devil and his angels and all who follow him are cast into the abyss, God descends to be with man.

When Jesus was born, God descended to be with man.  When Jesus was born, He was God in flesh, cloaked in humility.  Yet, in Revelation 21, God comes to dwell with man, to set His tent over man, not in a hidden way, but in full sight of the glory of God.

Death, the big stick in the hands of sin and the devil, is no longer.  There is no mourning nor weeping nor pain nor any of the things that accompany death.  The old things have passed away.  There is restoration and newness of life.

All things new…  It’s easy to latch onto the old things because we’ve never seen the new!  But, all the old things are dying away.  All things new…  Restoration to the way God intended it at the beginning, the fallenness driven away.  The one seated on the throne turns to John and says, “It is done.”  Grammatically, it is done, happened and it’s going to remain in a state of being done – being made new.

Even now, things are new.  Christians are born anew by water and the word of promise through their mother, the Church.  They are fed and nourished at God’s table in His Church.  These great gifts give what they say, forgiveness, and they point us to the forgiveness and eternal salvation that will be forever realized at Jesus’ appearing.

The Church is battered and beaten.  She endures persecution from outside and heresies from inside.  There is scary stuff, all right.  Yet, in mercy, she is preserved.  The picture of the heavenly Jerusalem is one of the holy Church, pristine, sparkling, beautiful for Her Groom.  For her Christians there is resurrection to life everlasting.

Scary stuff?  There’s plenty.  How many times we’ve ached for brothers and sisters in the faith over the past few years or even longer.  There will undoubtedly be some scary days ahead.  But, Jesus has died and risen.  He is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, the first of those to be awakened to life everlasting.  The scary stuff has been swallowed up in the joy of Jesus’ resurrection.  Even as the Church and we, her Christians, endure the scary stuff, now, God’s promise in Jesus by the Holy Spirit tells us of a great hope that cannot be taken from our believing hearts.  We hear it in a gentle whisper as we rely upon Him in this world.

With that assurance, even in the midst of scary stuff, not having to sweat the Last Day, instead of handwringing, the Church is given to proclaim.  Her Christians are given to individual witness.  That’s what the Ten Commandments are all about.  In the introduction to the Apostles Creed in the Large Catechism, Martin Luther wrote that this is the faith we are given so that keep the Ten Commandments.  Those commandments are about loving God through faith, and they’re about loving our neighbor in daily life.  In the Ten Commandments, Almighty God includes you and me in the care of His creation.  We get to testify to the great we hope we have by taking care of our neighbor according to the commandments.

So, that’s the life we’re given.  Yes, there will be scary stuff.  But the scary stuff has already been taken care of in Jesus.  Living in this world with the great hope of the Last Day, life is about good works – doing those things for our neighbor that need to be done.  That’s what life in Jesus is, even as we long for the day when God will blot every tear from our eyes.  We can hear the words.  Do you hear them?  Behold, I am making all things new.  It is done…  Amen

One Church, One Hope

18 04 2016

Easter 4 C 2016

Revelation 7:1-17

  • After this I saw four angels standing upon the four corners of the earth, holding fast the four winds of the earth in order that the wind might not blow upon the earth nor upon the sea nor upon the trees.
  • And I saw another angel rising/going up from the rising of the sun having the seal of the living God, and he cried out in a great voice to the four angels to whom it had been given to them to injure the earth and the sea,
  • Saying, “Do not injure the earth nor the sea nor the trees, until we sealed (have sealed?) the servants of our God upon their foreheads.”
  • And I heard the number of the ones sealed, 144,000, sealed from all the tribes of Israel…
  1. After these things, I looked, and behold a great crowd, which no one was able to number, from every nation and tribe and people and language and tongue standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with a white robe and palm branches in their hands,
  1. And crying out in a great voice saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb.”
  1. And all the angels stood (pluperfect) around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell upon their faces and worshiped God, saying,
  1. Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength to our God into the ages of ages.  Amen
  1. And one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they and from where have they come?”
  1. And I said to him, “My lord/my sir, you yourself know.” And He said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the tribulation – the great one – and they washed their robes and they have whitened them in the blood of the Lamb.
  1. On account of this they are before the throne of God and they worship Him day and night in His temple, and the one sitting upon the throne tabernacles/spreads His tent over them.
  1. They neither hunger any more, nor do they thirst any more, nor does the heat from the sun fall upon them,
  1. For the Lamb who is in the mist of the throne is shepherding them, and He will lead them to the spring of living water, and God will wipe ever tear from their eyes.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

I could probably say something like Paul Harvey right now:  You know what the news is.  You do.  Some of you read the newspaper, others watch the TV, and still others read the news on the internet.  You know what the news is, so I probably don’t have to tell you what’s going on.  But I probably should.

Here’s the news.  There is oppression, those who hold others under their thumbs.  There is violence and bloodshed.  Some of it is done in the name of a so-called god, while other times it’s hatred for some reason.  There is economic imbalance that seems to grow by the day – really bad imbalance so that many cannot get the things needed to survive the next day.  You think about the abundance in our nation, but in so many places on this planet families subsist on less than $1 a day and don’t even have that dollar.  There is famine and disease and the devaluing of life at all stages.  The Church that follows Jesus is persecuted, assailed because she follows Jesus and proclaims His name in all the earth.

The first part of chapter 7 tells of the Church on earth.  God gives protection, but for reasons known only to Him, sometimes that protection is withdrawn and, to use the language of some of those who served in Iraq, the Church is sent outside the wires into places of incredible combat.

All the while, the Church continues what she does, proclaiming Jesus and sealing those who are brought to Him with the sign of the cross.  We do it all the time – the sign of the cross, the sign that recalls Holy Baptism, where we were joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

There’s that word in 14 – tribulation.  It’s thlipsis in Greek.  Anything with that many consonants strung together isn’t going to be pleasant.  The great tribulation, the elder told John.  And, it is the great, the mega tribulation.  Every day it’s the daily tribulation of the attacks of the devil as his lies do us harm, along with the world and our flesh, always happy to follow along.  The devil’s always around, always aiming his darts and arrows at us.

But there’s tribulation grows hot.  There’s the tribulation that’s going on in our nation right now, not that the church may have lost her favored place in society, but that there are those who wish to have any mention of Jesus eradicated, who peddle such a push with lies and deceit and who love a culture of death instead of life.

Sometimes that tribulation that is bigger.  Names like Isis and places like North Korea and Iran and India and China and the Sudan come to mind.  Churches are destroyed, burned, attack.  We hear about it every once in a while, a brother or sister imprisoned or even put to death because of the name of Jesus.

Yet, there is a hope.  It’s the vision seen in the second part of chapter 7, the great, white-robed multitude, holding palm branches in their hands and singing the song of praise, the great hymn begun in chapter 4 that continues into all eternity.

We’re just a few weeks out from Easter Sunday.  On that blessed morning, we heard once again the story we never tire of hearing.  Jesus was dead and now was alive, never to die again.  We heard St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 tell that Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have died – the first in a long line of those who died in Christ and yet would be raised to life everlasting because of His resurrection.

People of God, that’s the multitude we see in Revelation 7!  Their hope was in the Word made flesh.  In chapter 6, they had been asking, How long, O Lord.  They were given white robes and told to wait a little longer.  In chapter 7, those white robes are being donned.  Their faith vindicated in resurrection as Jesus brings vengeance on His foes.  Their voices are lifted in the great hymn of praise.  That’s a hope, a certainty, with which we live now.

Even today, even now, there are those who are dying in Christ so that the number saints in the white robed multitude continues to grow each day, until that day when Jesus appears in glory.  That’s the hope of our baptism in which we live each day.  Living in that multitude, that’s the hope of being at the marriage feast of the Lamb that has no end.

We have the promise given by Jesus in today’s Gospel – they shall never perish.  They shall never be destroyed!  No one will take them from His hand.  For us, it’s a magnificent hope to which we look.  We shall not be destroyed.  We shall not be taken from His hand.  Those who have gone before us in the faith, I hear so often, oh, they’re smiling on us.  Not really.  Yes, there’s smiling, but that’s because they’re looking at Jesus.

That last day on which we and all the faithful stand in white robes, that day hasn’t arrived.  As it is in chapter 6, those who have gone before us still ask how long, waiting for the day of resurrection.  And the Church on earth endures tribulation.  There is tribulation at the hands of the devil, the world, and even our flesh, those who do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come.

Yet, even though she endures tribulation, she still has a message to proclaim.  See, the world around us knows tribulation, too.  The bloodshed and the affliction and the oppression and the imbalance, these affect them, too.  Just this morning I read the account of another attack in Africa in which at least 140, mostly refugees, were killed along the border of Ethiopia and South Sudan.  In the past few days, earthquakes have rocked Japan and now Ecuador.  The kingdom of this world does nothing but stoke fear and stir up terror in hearts.

We have a hope to proclaim.  That’s why tribulation, though it can be fearful, we can say with Paul in Romans 8 that these afflictions will never compare with the glory to be revealed.  Indeed, all creation groans now.  The world around us groans in fear now.  But we have a message that calms fears and stills terror now and gives an eternal hope that cannot be silenced.

See, every day, the Church goes outside the wires into combat zones.  Every day, as she goes, she carries but one thing, and that’s the good news about Jesus who was dead and is now alive, never to die again.  She carries the news about Jesus who has redeemed all people by His blood.  She carries the urgent plea that all people turn in repentance and cling to Jesus in faith.  And she looks for and longs for that day when Jesus appears in glory and wipes away every tear from our eyes.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!